Video game design is one of the fastest-growing IT fields. The video game market share is predicted to reach a whopping 340 billion US dollars by the end of 2027.
Beyond these statistics, there are changes in attitude towards games, in the game industry, among people who work in game dev. The pandemic pushed a lot of people towards Animal Crossing and Genshin Impact. Mobile games stopped being a marginalized genre big investors haven’t taken seriously and become a significant market: earnings from mobile games were $93.2 bn in 2021, and that comprised 52% of all global game revenue.
Microsoft is attempting to acquire Blizzard, and the other big players in the industry are also looking for big deals like that — to find the bigger fish in terms of money, indie developers finally become more visible and have an easier way of finding their audience.
All of that leads to more people being interested in designing games. So, let’s talk about jobs one of the main people in a gamedev team does — about the game designer’s responsibility and game design.
What Is Game Design, Anyway?
Game development is a mix of creating compelling concepts, stories, characters, goals, and challenges and the systems that underlie and enable them. All these create a player's experience, and the better it is, the more engaging, interesting, and profitable the game. Game designers focus on the gameplay part of players’ experience.
The entire process can be divided into two main parts that are parallel to each other.
The creative side of the game design process focuses on individual, low-level game objects and actions. It can be also referred to as content design. Some of the work that’s done within it is:
- World design — comprises the definition of the world where the events of the game take place, what the storyline is and what makes it immersive for the player
- Character design — who are the characters and what they do
- Level design — different environments where a game happens
The content design also refers to gameplay elements within new quests, challenges, locations, and so on.
The technical part of game design covers designing systems and mechanics that govern the game. Among them:
- Game rules — what and how is happening in the game
- Economy design — how items, resources, and currencies circulate in the game
- Combat design — how players can fight, what are weapons and units
The technical part also often includes designing the character’s leveling mechanics and overlaps with monetization design.
Game design is multi-disciplinary field that involves system design, economy design, narrative design and more, and overlaps hugely with other departments like artists, developers (to negotiate the game's technical capacity), and so on.
Game Design Vs Game Development
Game designing is often confused with game development.
Game designers create gameplay, on system and content levels, and try to use it to enhance gamers’ experience as much as possible. Their responsibility is to create rules for how things in the game behave, look, and feel, and implement these rules in different aspects of the game.
A game developer’s — engineer’s — job is to bring a game designer’s vision into reality. They translate systems, mechanics, and ideas from Excel sheets, mockups, and concept models into the virtual environment via coding.
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Game Design Principles To Keep in Mind When Making Games
Good game design should guide players through the game, exciting them and making them feel good. There are many core principles game designers implement to improve players’ experience via various gameplay elements. Let’s talk about several of them.
Design With Users In Mind
Designers are expected to see a project’s gameplay through the eyes of different players.
Game design basics request to ask team members the following questions and see if their evidence-based answers are positive:
- Is our game accessible to players and offers them optimal, fun challenges?
- Is the gameplay intuitively understandable?
- Does the game provide possibilities for users to personalize their experience?
- Do gamers have the motivation to play? What is their motivation?
Now, that may sound a bit dry.
Consider this: the majority of AAA games have different taxonomies (or segments) or players that have different motivations to keep playing. Damion Schubert from Netflix’s Boss Fight talks about how important it is in, particularly, MMO to make options of gameplay for groups that just focus on winning in the arena (in dungeons or PvP combats) and users who just want to pick flowers and chill. Accessibility in games isn’t only about making the game playable for disabled people, it’s also about offering different types of challenges for different people without making their choice A Thing That Changes Everything.
Introduce New Elements in Isolation
Use controlled environments while introducing secondary mechanics or just new interactive elements of gameplay.
For example, you may give a player a new weapon and, right after that, show them a situation where it can come in handy. This way, players can try using it and decide if they need it.
Build Around a Core Game Mechanic
The core game mechanic is the main, most repeated action players do to play your game — driving, shooting, running, jumping, or even solving puzzles and talking. After you’ve figured out what the main mechanic would be, it’s a matter of making it interesting enough to keep players playing. It’s done through rewards and achievements, the narrative reveals, and so on.
Secondary mechanics are important as well: they make the game richer, offer additional challenges, expand the game world, etc. Although be careful while adding them into simple one-purpose games (like puzzles or arcades) — they shouldn’t disrupt the experience.
Teach Without Teaching
Most players, especially experienced ones, hate when games overexplain their mechanics. It’s best to give players a choice whether to learn or skip all the tutorials and to make instructions as simple, easily graspable, and unobtrusive as possible. Popular mobile games excel in it: they only have a minute to give players everything they need to start; otherwise, they’ll end up deleted.
Among other basics of game design: for the most efficient and fun learning experience, place players in a situation where a mechanic you’re explaining should be used and show the buttons to press on.
Rewarding the Player
In-game rewards are intended to encourage players to go beyond the main quest’s goals. Some of the common rewards are skill points needed to unlock or enhance special powers, virtual money to buy new weapons or skins for them, etc.
Players get rewarded when they:
- Complete game missions;
- Complete extra challenges or solve puzzles;
- Open treasure chests;
- Kill enemies higher level than them;
- Interact with characters enough times;
- Unlocking locations; etc.
The requirement-to-reward ratio should be calculated precisely to ensure that the rewards feel fair but don’t interfere with the progression - if the players get too little, they feel cheated but if you give them too much, they may lose interest in the game because it doesn't challenge them anymore. That is one of the jobs of the designer: economy design.
"The idea is to keep players interested in taking actions that will be rewarded while keeping the process fun." - this could be removed
Give Players a Feeling of Accomplishment
Players play to have fun, and a major source of fun is a feeling of accomplishment. It motivates them to keep playing.
Providing both seemingly undefeatable enemies and means to defeat them — that’s called a game balance — is one way to make people feel they’ve achieved something for a player that focuses on fighting. Other players would feel good when optimizing their city’s economy in a strategy game, finding out more about the characters they like in an RPG, or solving the puzzle quickly.
To find out what gives their players a feeling of accomplishment, game studios conduct playtests and study players’ behavior and game retention rates after the release.
How To Design A Video Game Like A Pro
Game design is an inseparable part of game development, and it is present in all its phases.
Game development starts with an idea. Then, goes market research, briefing, brainstorming, and finally, creating a Game Design Document (GDD). GDD is a blueprint for the future game.
Created, as you’ve guessed, by a game designer, GDD outlines everything the game and the player are supposed to do, every way they interact, and how to implement it within a certain scope of work, through certain tasks.
Now, let’s talk about the different components of game design a team works through in this process.
Gameplay or game mechanics are governed by game rules.
High-level rules impact the flow of the game on the plot level. In Genshin Impact, the more enemies you kill, the more loot & EXP points you receive, but it doesn’t affect the overall plot; in Dishonored, the more enemies you kill, the higher the Chaos indicator and probability of a bad ending.
Low-level rules define physics and other different ways the player interacts with the world and its components and the way they interact with players. They describe things a player does and things that are, after triggering certain conditions, done to a player. These are the mechanics of interacting with a weapon, leveling up, driving a vehicle, moving through the night, battle mechanics, etc.
Among the most important mechanics:
Resource management. Include items players have, items that are in the game’s space, items players can get for money (in-game or real money), and the game space itself (look at how chess, DotA, or any other tower defense work).
Uncertainty. One of the most significant and challenging mechanics to create. Is created by successful balancing of randomness, the introduction of hidden information, analysis of player’s performance, etc. Uncertainty exists in all games, and it’s often what makes them interesting. Players think: will I manage to climb this wall, solve this puzzle, beat this opponent, manage to find what I’m looking for, find the best move, etc. Uncertainty always relates to the game's goals, long-term and short-term.
Progression. The learning curve of a player's experience must be built to be challenging, but not daunting, — and don’t roll down to boredom. So, game designers are responsible for gameplay. . Beating uncertain circumstances (e.g. battle, quest, etc.) must be followed by an immediate reward.
Action. Challenges within the action are also great for engaging players and making different elements of gameplay more fun. In combat design, that could be, for instance, mechanics for stunning opponents, parry and other timing-related challenges or combining different weapon skills (shooting arrows) with character traits (fire elements), and so on.
Rules must be consistent throughout the game, and breaking of the game rules must have a narrative or/and emotional significance.
Covering the Components
Now, let’s focus more on game components that are the most vital within the game design:
Environment. These are all the objects that form the map: fields, oceans, deserts, forests, cities, spaceships interiors, and so on — depending on the game’s genre and plot.
Space. This refers to your game’s dimensions like 2D or 3D, the size and the structure of the playable field, the first person or third person POVs, and so on. Designing space also includes soundscaping and, for instance, a number of enemies/an amount of space ratio.
Effects. These are shadow and light, sparks, cracks, reflections, etc. There are rules for environmental effects, too, especially if they’re interwoven with the player’s experience (e.g., with survival-related mechanics): fog and darkness can reduce the visibility, fire from the bonfire burns, etc.
This phase is completed using the means of video game graphics design. It may include:
- Using architectural visualization/modeling
- Special effects (SFX)/visual effects (VFX)
The typical choice for game designers is either 2D or 3D design. 3D design stages include:
- UV mapping
Professionals who do visual design work in the game industry are called artists: environmental artists, character artists, and so on. The visual part of the game is often the most noticeable expression of its genre: players usually recognize horror, sci-fi, and fantasy by their graphics.
Designing the Audio
Frequently, game designers use open-source libraries of sound effects (SFX) — especially conventional noises like water drops, blows of the wind, fireplace roar, etc. Elements of the game’s soundscape often include
- Ambient (people talking on the market, forest sounds, rain, etc.)
- Character-related SFX (walking, running, breathing)
- Voice acting;
- Action-related SFX and music (enemy noticing a player; battle soundtrack);
- Location-related music & ambient.
Music is an important part of large RPGs: it marks the locations and places the player visits, it’s played by characters, and it’s in the background of cutscenes.
Designing Your Story
In large projects, there are always specialists responsible for storytelling only. They are called narrative designers, and they create the main plot, characters’ backstories, dialogues, etc.
Game designers should be best friends with narrative designers because the game design must become a medium for telling a story.
The way players interact with a game leads them towards a story’s resolution. An example of Dishonored we mention is a major example of this: narrative branches depending on the player’s behavior within the game. But even if a narrative is linear, players can still find out sub-stories and hidden layers of the narrative within the world via interacting with objects, talking to NPCs, etc. While narrative designers are responsible for the meaning, timing, and nature of these interactions, game designers craft the interactions themselves.
Designing Your Characters
Well-developed characters in games often become widely recognized. While narrative designers work with how PCs/NPCs fit into the overall plot, write their character backstory and define their characterizations and behaviors, game designers work through their talents, class traits, profession-related skills, and so on.
One of the best explanations of character stats-related work of game designers would be on Dungeons and Dragons. When a player chooses to play rogue, that gives them proficiency bonuses for a sneak attack. When they choose to play paladin, they receive a proficiency bonus to Lay on Hands — a simple healing spell. Similarly, in World of Warcraft, different classes attribute to different choices of weapons for a character, skills, and abilities.
Defining the economy of skill points, leveling-up, talent development, etc. is the job of a game designer — and, most of these, of course, have to be connected to a character’s backstory.
Tips For Getting Into The Industry
Getting into the gaming industry and finding a relevant job may not always be simple. Few recommendations to start with:
- Start designing small games using game developers’ templates. After all, you are not expected to program an entire game alone. Just show your proficiency in creating plot and storylines, basic design decisions, and catchy gameplay options. If you want to focus on narrative-driven games, use itch.io! It’s a simple game engine.
- Take extra courses in video game design and learn relevant skills. Look for game dev studios that offer classes or internships. They may offer you a job after completing those.
- Use social media channels for networking and advertising your indie games. Aim to create a solid portfolio to show potential employees.
- Start from working as a game tester, UX/UI designer, community manager, etc. in a game studio. This relevant experience may also help you to get a foot in the door of the industry.
The main thing here is to try creating games on your own first.
Game Design Software Tools You Want To Check Out
Some well-known tools that both developers and designers employ are:
- Unity. It is a cross-platform game engine and design software tool. It has plenty of instruments for modeling objects and working with graphics, textures, and sound. It is well-integrated with other popular software like Maya, Blender, and 3ds Max for graphic design and Bolt for visual scripting.
- Unreal Engine. It is more of a toolkit for game development. This engine is simple and accessible. It has a unique scripting system called Blueprint for establishing gameplay, event sequences, environmental effects, etc.
- GameMaker Studio 2. It is another versatile software tool that does not require much coding. It has an intuitive drag-and-drop interface for game logic.
Specialists also use separate tools for mind mapping, modeling characters and other objects, designing an interface and menu buttons, etc. Also, for system design, game designers use Excel (a lot).
Tips To Make Your Game More Fun
Here are a few tips on how to add fun to a game:
- Establish a few more game mechanics or add sub-mechanics. A good idea may be to integrate optional minigames into the core gameplay, time-sensitive events with new mechanics, etc.
- Complement the story. Consider adding new bits of storylines and side quests in your future game updates to keep fans engaged and let them find out more about the characters or the history of your world.
- Update consistently. Play with styles and characters, perfect the visual effects, add new weapons or weapon skins, etc. Add new dungeons or locations. Aim to give players a feeling that the game still has a lot to offer.
A huge part of the work for every game designer (and every game team, in general) is modifying and improving the game to keep it fun for regular players and attract new ones.
The Future Of Video Game Design
The game industry grows and changes continuously along with new technologies and trends.
- Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Right now, not many game dev studios focus on AR/VR projects — their target audience is rather narrow. However, Google is developing a new set of AR glasses. Meta has already created the Oculus headset and is launching Metaverse. This creates a potentially huge demand for AR/VR games.
- High-fidelity graphics. The game development field is scaling with every new technology. Nvidia and AMD companies excelled in creating improved graphics cards that support ray tracing, a rendering method that results in highly naturalistic light, shadows, and reflections supported by, like, a dozen of games only, as of early 2022. But ray tracing is likely to be present in every future triple-A project.
- Blockchain gaming. WEB3 games or crypto play-to-earn games allow players to earn rewards that can be exchanged into fiat money. Such projects still have a limited appeal, of course – there’s research that says that as soon as a game allows people to earn money, players have less fun — but the play-to-earn model is attractive to many investors.
All these new shiny things may bring opportunities to craft new mechanics and new ways of playing games.
Game designers create rules for how the game and its elements interact with players and how players can interact with them. It’s a versatile profession with lots of branches, responsibilities, and interesting challenges — but it’s super rewarding. Of course, the gameplay isn’t the only thing players enjoy in games: they can adore the plot, love the genre, or enjoy the game's aesthetics. But it’s often gameplay, in a neat combination with a plot, that makes them grind the dungeons until they get the needed artifact or explore locations for hours for clues for a case. It’s great to be the one to design it.
What Is Game Design?
It is a field dedicated to planning the systems and rules of a game to make it interesting and challenging to play.
How To Get Into Video Game Design?
Learn the principles of game design and a bit of how game engines work, then choose your area of focus (level design, system design, etc.) and gain theoretical knowledge, and finally create a portfolio and apply for open positions. Also, play a lot of games and analyze them from the point of what mechanics they use and why you find this or that element of the game particularly exciting.
How To Design A Video Game?
Basics of game design include coming up with a main game idea and plot, mechanics and rules to guide players’ interactions with these ideas and plot, and a lot of balancing between Google Docs and meeting rooms with artists, developers, voice actors, producers, and players who came to playtest.
What is Game Design Document(GDD)?
A Game Design Document (GDD) is a comprehensive written document that outlines the overall vision, mechanics, scripts, rules, objectives, characters, levels, and storyline of a video game.
The GDD serves as a blueprint for game developers and provides a clear and cohesive roadmap for the entire game development process. It's an essential tool for game designers, producers, programmers, artists, and testers to ensure that the game development team is on the same page and working towards the same goal. The GDD can vary in length and complexity, depending on the scope and scale of the game being developed, but it typically includes a detailed description of every aspect of the game, from gameplay mechanics to user interface design
The GDD serves as the foundation for every game development project, but it is a constantly evolving document that undergoes changes throughout the development process. As such, it falls upon the game designer to ensure the overall integrity of the game concept.